Sewing tools: Thimbles

Home Economics was not a reality when I was in school. I’m pretty sure there were home ec classes in all of my schools, but I had other stuff to fill those seven classes a day. Most school years, I didn’t have time for all the stuff I wanted to do, much less classes the teenage aspiring astronaut/doctor/senator/lawyer me would ever need.

This means I’m mostly self-taught in all sorts of crafty stuff. One great-grandmother did give me a basic 9 block when I was about four (she made gorgeous quilts), and another put a ginormous crochet hook and the nastiest 1970’s era acrylic yarn in my hands (and made me wary of yarn for years) and my mother taught me the basics of running a sewing machine at some point, but I’m GenX. We really didn’t get instruction — we got instruction manuals. I’ve been RTFMing since I could read.

I never learned to use a thimble. I know what they are, and I’ve used a lot of makeshift ones over the years (a never-to-be-used credit card makes a great needle pusher; teeth can be used as needle pliers in a real pinch, but the former will ruin the card, and the latter will send a dentist’s kid to Berkeley) but I’ve never figured out how they’re supposed to work.

Some people push the needle with a fingertip, but I use the side of my middle finger, between the first and second knuckle. When I do handwork, I usually use a back-stitch or a chain stitch, not a running stitch. My stitch length won’t win awards and running stitches get bunchy on me.

For a thimble, I start with a square of leather about 3″ x 3″. I’ve used junk purses, Dritz leather elbow patches, upholstery scrap and chamois from the automotive shop. I personally like upholstery scrap, since it’s a good weight, usually cheap, and flexible. The only thing that doesn’t work well is garment suede. Garment suede will wear through in about three weeks of heavy use. The small pieces from Michael’s work fine if that’s what you’ve got, but you’re better off buying a thrift-store purse and cutting it down. Vegans, I’m sorry, but pleather does not work. The needles will puncture it. If you’re entirely opposed to using leather, I suggest figuring out how to use a metal thimble.

You’ll also need
heavy thread or two rivets (my preference for speed and not having to shove a needle through leather without a thimble)
an awl
a small hammer
something you can pound on (anvil, scrap wood, sibling skull — something thick, not easily damaged, resilient)
scissors (not the fabric scissors)
chalk or a crayon

Wrap the leather around the finger you want to protect, with one edge near the palm knuckle and the other near the nail. You want this to be tight but not cut off circulation — leather will stretch over time. Use your chalk to mark your first and second knuckles, and mark the length. You want about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (.5 to 1 cm) overlap.

Your fingers probably taper a little, so the first shape you’ll cut in the leather is a trapezoid. (Do this fitting with paper or a scrap of fabric if leather is hard to get.)


A: length of finger between first and third knuckle
B: circumference of finger at third knuckle plus 1/2 inch
C: circumference of finger at first knuckle plus 1/2 inch

Cut a couple half circles from each side of the trapezoid and one from the center — this is so your finger can bend. Don’t cut too deep, and use your chalk marks as a guide.

Now use the awl to poke holes in the corners — where the blue dots are in my drawing. If you’re sewing the thimble together, you’ll need six or eight on each tab, about 1/8 inch apart. Rivets only need one hole. Rivets are cheap (usually $3 for a pack of fifty) and they’re right next to the leather at the craft shop.

Check the fit, sew up or smash the rivets, and get to sewing. For me, that means an audiobook or some season of television.

Channeling my inner Michael Jackson

I have one glove. Of course, it’s black, made of some odd light-weight faux leather stuff I had in stash, and not sequined, but it’s mine.

I’ve never made a glove before. I have odd hands — long fingers, muscular and not really delicate — so shop gloves have never really fit. I probably should have built gloves a long time ago, but pockets have done the job most of the time.

This one is just a prototype, made exactly to pattern spec. I will probably make some alterations now that I have an idea how they go together, but for now, it’s not bad.

These were entirely hand sewn. The instructions were for machine, but given the narrow seam allowances, it seemed simpler. I spent about 4 hours on this one over a couple days.





Sort of long shot


The Waterloo Project: Costuming starts now

I sew mostly out of necessity. See, when I was about thirteen, the Boob Fairy came down with a case of short-term memory loss, and she just kept visiting my house. In the space of about six months, I didn’t just fill out, I over-filled, then bloomed, blossomed and burst out. Someday I’ll find her and give her the share of low-back aches she visited upon me.

I’m also short (thanks, Mom) and short-waisted. I can either buy off the rack and look like hell, buy off the rack and alter and look like Purgatory, commission custom and eat oatmeal, or just accept that my down time will be spent developing a meaningful relationship with my iron and my seam-ripper.

I also did re-enactment and theater as a young adult, and there’s no off the rack for either of those. I’ve built my share of custom clothing, and I’m not bad at it, when I have patience, motivation and either spare time or spare money. I’ve even built corsets, which are the sewist equivalent of a Waterford Apprentice Bowl — once you make one, you can pretty much make anything else.

And in addition to that, my partner is a foot taller than me, broad shouldered, long-armed, long-torso’ed, and has issues with seam finishes, fabrics, textures and colors. He really hates overlocked seams, would rather wear a Tyvek hazmat suit than go shopping, and dislikes polyester, wool and silk. He does have a specific style of trousers that will be available as long as BDUs are made, so I don’t have to make his slacks or his jockeys, but shirts are a pain to find. It turned out to be easier to develop a pattern and make him a new polo or dress shirt about once a month than try to buy for him.

This adds up to me being comfortable with my mad sewing skillz.

But… I am a practical girl. I don’t like ruffles, or lace or much trimming of any sort. As egotistical and vain as he was, Beau Brummel had a really good notion when he started pushing for simplicity of line and exquisite craftwork as a means of conspicuous consumption. The bad news for a chickie playing in the Regency era is that very little of Brummel’s sensibility got into women’s fashion. The good news is that one area of women’s fashion was dominated by male tailors serving a primarily male audience — the riding habit.

Interesting thing about the habit — according to Ackermann’s Repository, riding habits tended to get used for traveling clothing, and habits would come with walking skirts for specifically that purpose.

That’s what I’m making: habits, with walking skirts.

The fabric has arrived (pics of that tomorrow, assuming I have light) but the sketches are finished:

Underpinnings: Chemise, corset. I’ll need at least four of the former, and two of the latter. I learned to like reed as boning when I lived in a much hotter desert than this one, so the corsets will be a combination of reed and cording. I’m going to try Laughing Moon’s new Regency Stays pattern, but instead of using their gusset cups to contain my bounty, I’ll be using a draw-string adjustable gathered cup. Extant corsets had this feature, and it’s a practical one, given that the Regency bustline is essentially Lift, Separate, Balance On High Shelf. Any woman with any cuppage at all had to contain her assets somehow.

Next layer is the skirt, which, given Regency waistlines, is more jumper, and shirt. I’m using La Mode Bagatelle’s Bodiced Petticoat pattern (but without additional boning) and putting in a side opening. Shirt is plain, sleeved, cotton lawn, with underarm gussets and cut to a natural waist length.

Redingcote version one. Same fabric as skirt. Stock will be same fabric as shirt, so cotton lawn.

Spencer or pelisse — still not sure. Right now, I’m looking for documentation on a feminine tail coat or similar. I think this would look smashing with a red skirt, an open swallowtail coat, and a brocaded waistcoat, but that may be just a costume fantasy rather than a re-enactment piece. I have seen an extant, 1810 habit with a long waistline (like to the natural waist) but I need to find more documentation on that specific piece.

General Grouse

High efficiency washing machines are GREAT when you live in a desert.

They suck for prewashing fabric. Everything gets twisted, and then the new, modern dryer makes it all worse. And there is no hanging of laundry right now, because yesterday’s high temp was a balmy 14 degrees, and there’s not enough Thinsulate in the world. (Also, my neighbors on the side of the house with the clothesline have somewhere between nine and twenty-gazillion dogs, and I am allergic, so that area is a no-go.)

Indeed, I have ironed about twenty yards of cotton recently. Why do you ask?

The Waterloo Project: Cot (Bad Engineer.)

I was not drinking anything stronger than Coke Zero.

Yeah, so that didn’t work. C and I did a post-mortem on the frame (and didn’t take pics, sorry) and came up with three major points of failure.

1. As well as I drilled into my dowels, I still ended with some crookedness.
2. Poplar is way, way too soft.
3. The legs are too tall.

That’s okay — I’ll use the legs for a table and a wash-stand, and the oak dowels will get used in the chair.

Alternate scheme in progress for bed and transport boxes, but I need to go to IKEA first, and that’s at the far end of Denver Metro.

I’m rethinking the tent design now — I think I’ll be working with the bowed wagon design, because any interior frame I can build will be too heavy to carry, or too light to survive.

The Waterloo Project: Cot (Part 1)

It’s cold and bitter today. There is snow coming (yay! — perfect birthday present, Mother Nature!) though not much. And since it’s my birthday, I got to do whatever I wanted, and that was build a piece of my kit.

My warranty gave out a long time ago. Even sleeping on the couch is sometimes a bad idea. Floors are entirely out, and the ground? Phui. Yeah, yeah, I’m a wimp. Thirty-seven year old joints are starting to lose their hydraulic fluid.

One of my requirements for this project is using as many off the shelf components as possible. I don’t have a lathe, or a good place to set up our table saw. Long, long years ago, I worked in technical theater, and that’s where I got my introduction to all things constructive, and DIY. I can paint, frame, wallpaper, wire switches, but I’ve never been comfortable with table and jigsaws. I don’t mind miter saws or bandsaws, but there’s something about the table saw that says Amputation Likely to me.

When I started designing the cot, I designed for either stair balusters or pre-manufactured table legs. I chose table legs (specifically Wendell 21 3/4″ Early American) because they were more graceful and in keeping with Regency furniture, while being easily accessible (so if I totally botched one, I was only out $6) and sturdy.

I’m basing this cot on some extant ones. During the Napoleonic Wars, officers often commissioned full kits of campaign furniture, including tables that seat twelve, recliners that convert to beds, and bookcases that break down into small boxes for transport. Campaign furniture is always knock-down furniture — it’s the precursor to flatpack — and it’s incredibly clever stuff. I’ll link to photos in the near future.

My construction methods are not period — that would be using mortise and tenon joints and pegs — because it will mostly be hidden, and this is a prototype.


— 6 table legs (I got mine at Lowe’s; they’re usually back near lumber, on the same aisle as dowels and paneling.)
— 6 1″ diameter oak dowels, 36″ long. (Poplar has sufficient strength, but they come in 48″ lengths, and I didn’t want to be cutting if I could avoid it. Oak is more expensive, heavier per inch, and is harder to drill, so I may rebuild this with poplar in future if it turns out to be too heavy.)
— 3 5/8″ dowels (these are poplar, because I already owned them for another project)
— 2 pieces of 8/32 threaded rod, 3″ long
–14 carriage bolts, 8/32, 2″ long
— 20 Tee nuts, 8/32 threading (I prefer the ones that attach with little nails through holes, but the ones with teeth that you hammer on work, too. Those are slightly more likely to split the dowels, but they go on a lot faster.) 20130111-213812.jpg

Drill and appropriate bits
Vise or clamps
measuring and marking tools, including a tape measure and a level-ruler.
Vacuum cleaner that has a hose. (Sawdust gets everywhere.)

1. On each table leg, make a mark 3 inches down from the top, and drill a hole straight down through the mark and through the diameter of the leg. I step up from a pilot hole with a 1/16″ bit to a 1/4″. It takes longer, but I’m more likely to get a clean, straight hole and it’s easier on the drill.


2. On four of the legs (the corners) make a second mark, one inch above the hole you just made, and rotated 90 degrees from the hole, so your new hole will be perpendicular to the one you just made. Drill those holes, too.


3. On all six legs, drill a hole 4 inches from the bottom through the diameter. On the four with two holes, the holes should be parallel to the bottom hole; on the two with one hole, the lower hole should be perpendicular.

4. Set the legs aside and clamp your first dowel perpendicular to the floor. You’re going to drill holes into the center of your dowels, at both ends, and insert a tee nut into all twelve ends. Here is where a drill press is very handy, if you have one (I don’t) but it can be done with some practice without one. Here is where drilling a pilot hole and stepping up is most important — it’s really easy to angle the drill and even a degree or two will mean you’ll crack the side of the dowel.






A trick for drilling straight holes — grab a blank CD-ROM or a trashed one. Balance it, shiny side up, on the thing you’re drilling. Set your drill bit on your center mark, through the hole of the CD, and align the bit and the bit’s reflection. Drill straight down, watching the line the bit and the reflection make. Once you’ve got the pilot hole drilled, you can remove the CD.

Tomorrow, we assemble, and fit the fabric.

The Waterloo Project: Funding and Budget

An eight-week trip is expensive. I figure that just sitting in my house, doing absolutely nothing besides using what I already own costs around $10 a day in mortgage, electricity, connectivity and insurance.

Estimates are always low, but my mother is a project manager, so I’ve picked up her tool — always figure a cushion into the price of something. For construction, my cushion is always 2 X current sales tax. (Which means about 18% for me.) For travel, I go higher.

Here’s my current breakdown with some overestimates built in for inflation/exchange rate changes:

$600 — Train from Colorado to New York City to catch the ship (in a roomette)
$1000 — Passage, in interior cabin, on a Cunard line Transatlantic ship, eastbound
$ 150 — Train from Southampton to Suffolk
$1000 — Lodging in Suffolk (I’ve found a couple of guesthouses in the 300 pound per week range; if I use a camping site as my base, the tariff will be cheaper but I’ll have other expenses)
$ 600 — Food for twenty days (I’m mostly vegetarian, I am happy with simple picnic foods)
$ 400 — Bicycle rental (or purchase, with subsequent donation to Oxfam)
$1000 — Incidentals. I won’t be buying much, because of the transport issues, but some things can be mailed home, and some things will break — like bike tire inner tubes.
$150 — Train from Suffolk to London to Belgium.
$400 — 2-4 nights’ lodging in Belgium (I don’t know about this yet because the Waterloo 2015 project doesn’t yet know when and and for how long the site will be open for this.)
$300 — food and water at site
$300 — site fees (again, I don’t know if this is even reasonable.)
$150 — train from Belgium to London
$1800 — lodging, food in London for 7 days (There are London B&Bs around 50 pounds a night, though I don’t know if this means STAY AWAY or not.)
$60 — train from London to Southampton to catch the westbound ship
$1000 — Passage, in interior cabin, westbound
$600 — Train from New York to Colorado
$1000 — taxis, buses, random other events unforeseeable.

So… around $11 grand, all told. What gear I take will run somewhere around $2000, but that can be bought in small doses, as needed, over the next year. Given my 30% over-estimate, I’m looking at $15,000. I’ll also need to update my passport.

All of our debt (save our mortgage, which is small) is gone by June of this year. This is why I can even consider taking this trip. Right now, I’m shoving about $300 a month into savings for this; after June, that will jump by more than an order of magnitude, but it can be done, with long-range planning, on $300 a month for 30 months. (So, significantly less than my car payment was.) If I had children to send to college, this wouldn’t be possible at all. It also means no new toys for me for the foreseeable future. (C and I have separate toy funds.)

There are places where this could be cheaper — if I find a roomie for the two weeks at sea, or if I manage to couch-surf. This might be possible, but I’m not counting on it.